Tag Archives: success

Post #100 | Greener Grass

11 Jan

This is Post #100, and my goodness: how that little number has kept me from writing all week.  I keep thinking, “It’s number one hundred!  It’s special!  Therefore, I need to make something special of it!”

What, though?

Well.  A quote has been simmering in my head ever since I read it weeks ago; now seems as good a time as any to share it with you guys.  This little excerpt is part of a much longer interview with Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time-Traveler’s Wife.  The question is in regards to her sizable advance for her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry.

Q: How does that amount of money change your writing life?

A: …Back in the ’90s, I started going to artist colonies.  The one I go to most is Ragdale.  I remember the first time I ever went to Ragdale, and I was just like, Oh my…I’m going to get up today and I’m going to do what I want.  I’m going to make stuff.  And it was such a fantastic feeling to own your own day.  You know, nobody was going to tell me what to do that day.  And I thought, that’s what I aspire to, just to be in control of your time.  So there was a point a couple of years ago where I suddenly realized I had achieved control over my day.  And that was really exciting.  So from that point on it’s all pretty much the same: the freedom to make what you want when you want.  And I think that’s just what we’re all looking for is that kind of liberty.

– from the November/December 2009 issue of Writer’s Digest | click here to read the full interview

Her answer caught me off guard when I read it.  From someone who has achieved what so many writers aspire to — publication, loads of people who have read and enjoyed her work (though ‘overnight success’ came only after many years of hard work and twentyish agent rejections), a huge advance for her second novel — this quote carried a lot of weight for me.  

After all of this, it sounds like she’s most satisfied with freedom, liberty, control of the way she spends her time.  

I think this is an amazing reminder to those of us who are still on the opposite end of the “success” spectrum (whatever that means; I guess I mean the way success is commonly perceived, i.e. sales and popularity and money).  The money is satisfying to her because it buys her more time to do what she already loves to do: create.

Niffenegger’s wisdom inspires me to appreciate what I have, right now.  To enjoy each moment spent creating — whether those moments add up to eight hours a day or eight hours a month.  To not say “I’ll be happy when ____” but to drink in the experience as it happens.  To not wish for a day when I’ll be rich, or popular, or Queen of the Bestseller List, under the deluded idea that these things in and of themselves are a source of lasting, deep, inner happiness.  Because they’re not.  You can have all these things but still be utterly discontent, hungry for more, anxious and unsatisfied.  All of this reminds me of a verse in Ecclesiastes¹ that says, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.  This, too, I see is from the hand of God.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against popularity and money and sales and all the things that could come from the love of creation, and diligent work applied to that creation.  I’ve just been thinking about motivation behind my time spent creating, and a realistic perspective of the grass that looks so green on the “successful” side of the fence.  That no matter what happens today or in the future, I can take joy in this day, and the freedom I have to create.

Just thought I’d share that with you, since it inspired me to love what I do, even more, as I do it.

¹Taken from the NIV translation of the Bible, it’s from Chapter 2 verse 24.

When Hard Work Goes Unnoticed

22 Jul

I want to be remembered as someone who did the very best with the talent she was given.

– J.K. Rowling, J.K. Rowling: A Year In The Life

Motivation: we all need it.  Some of us have it.  It’s sometimes easy to lose, in the face of difficulty or after hard work that seems to go unnoticed.  It’s definitely easy to lose in the face of hard work that will never get noticed.

I’ve been thinking about my novel’s characters a lot lately, and why they do the things they do.  It occurred to me to ask myself, the author, the same question: why is it that I do what I do?  Why do I love this work so very much, why does it feel so satisfying when I complete something that may never get appreciated by someone else?  I hope it gets noticed by someone else one day, but there’s no guarantee of that.

So why do I do it?

The quote above resonated in me when I heard it.  It’s no foreign concept to me – for a while now, this has also been one of my main reasons for writing.  What struck me about it is that it was THE answer she chose – not to be remembered for her uncanny knack at telling a great story, not for her rags-to-riches story, but for doing the best with what she had.

About a year ago, I was on my knees, scrubbing coffee from the undersides of the tables in Starbucks.  I spent countless days, not making the lattes, but taking orders and handing drinks out the window.

The years before that, I cashed checks and made deposits all day, most every day.  My cash drawer always balanced, and it was perfectly organized.  I got yelled at (um, cursed at, rather) for asking for ID.  I got yelled at for things I didn’t do and couldn’t change.  

I did those jobs as well as I could, though.  I learned how to craft great drinks.  I scrubbed the tables vigorously (more from annoyance than from love of scrubbing, I have to add).  I smiled at the people who yelled at me.  

I did the best I could, but I felt a gaping chasm where I should feel at least a little satisfaction in the work I got up every day to do.  I tried to push my pride aside when the (evil) man in the Starbucks drive through said, “Oh, your parents paid for college? I bet they’re really proud of you working here.”  I tried, but I was truly, deeply unfulfilled.

Why, though?  People do these jobs every day.  We need people to scrub tables, we need people to deal with the money.  Goodness knows I need my lattes!  I rationalized myself into staying with them, because they are good jobs and I am not above them.

One day, though, it occurred to me:  these are not bad jobs, but they don’t use all of me.  They use my people skills and my ability to be responsible with money, but what about my brain?  What about my passion to create?  What about thoughts about life, love, morality, spiritual things, and people?  What about my heart?  Where does being project-driven fit in jobs that have no end and make no progress?  

It’s not just about doing the best you can – it’s about doing the best you can with the talent you are given.  

For me, writing is where I feel myself blossoming.  Hours and days fly by before I know it.  Writing a novel seems to be the perfect combination of using my brain, my creativity, my discipline, my organization, and working in all sorts of things I care about.  I get to explore so many avenues of myself just by sitting down to write.  Therein, I find motivation.  

Doing the best with what I’ve been given might lead to some great side-effects – publication, success (whatever that is), and seeing my printed ideas in the hands of other people.  But it might not.  Whatever happens, I love what I do every day, and it is satisfying to exercise all, not half, of me.

How about you?  What was it that motivated you to write in the first place?  What drives you to keep going, especially through times when you feel like nothing you’re doing is making a difference?  

 

PS: J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life is a documentary put together by James Runcie, a novelist/filmmaker.  There’s an article about the documentary here.

PPS:  I notice, often, that people find this blog by searching for “When my hard work doesn’t get noticed,” and other similar things.  If this is you, I hope your situation gets better soon.  Under-appreciation is never fun, and boy do I understand.  Please feel free to drop a line in the comment section, I love hearing from new readers.